Indianapolis, IN – Poise was the name of the game for IUPUI Saturday afternoon. They withstood big runs during the early portion of each half against Miami and closed out strong from the free-throw line to win comfortably, 78-64.
“I was very proud of the team as far as how we handled their pressure,” Head Coach Jason Gardner said. “We didn’t panic, I thought we were very poised.”
Darell Combs shot 4-for-7 from 3-point range and scored a game-high 20 points for IUPUI. Marcellus Barksdale scored 11 points to go with five rebounds and Aaron Brennan scored 10 points with six rebounds off the bench. Eric Washington led Miami with 18 points and added four rebounds and five assists.
IUPUI didn’t get off to a tremendous start against Miami. Despite getting a dunk from Nick Osborne on the opening possession, Miami quickly gained a 9-4 lead after a 9-2 run and both Osborne and Jordan Pickett were stranded on the bench with two fouls apiece in the first 12:30 of the half.
With two starters in early foul trouble, a couple of freshman stepped up. Evan Hall and T.J. Henderson combined to score 13 points and grab seven rebounds in the first half.
“I thought Evan did an unbelievable job on the glass. He gave us some extra possessions. He had a big and-one for us,” Gardner said. “I thought T.J., as a freshman going against a team that’s trapping all over the court and you don’t know when it’s coming, to have that poise, to get us in the offense, to direct traffic, being a young guy, he did an unbelievable job today.”
IUPUI tied the game up at 12 with 7:09 to go after a pair of free throws, and steadily built a lead up to nine points with 59 seconds left, before going into the break leading 35-28.
Despite the lead, IUPUI had nine turnovers in the half, mostly caused by Miami’s full-court press.
“At halftime we talked a little bit more about when you flash, you’ve got to flash to an open area,” Gardner said. “In the first half when we were flashing, we were flashing behind guys.”
The nine first-half turnovers from IUPUI led to nine points for Miami.
It seemed like the press might have been solved when IUPUI’s lead surged to 16 points early in the second half, but Miami stuck with the full-court press and switched to a 2-3 zone in the half court. The changed led to a 13-0 run that pulled Miami to within two points, 50-48.
“We just had to wake up, we had to play defense,” Combs said. “As the coaches say, we’ve got to talk on the defensive end.”
After an IUPUI timeout, Combs hit a 3-pointer to go back up five points and then the IUPUI defense woke up. Over the next 10:02, IUPUI held Miami to 2-for-18 shooting from the floor including a nearly eight-minute stretch where Miami shot 0-for-13. While IUPUI extended the lead back to 15 points, Miami went scoreless for over five minutes and committed two turnovers.
Unlike the game against Georgia State just over a week ago when IUPUI had multiple chances to close out the game at the line but ultimately lost, this time they came through knocking down all eight free-throw attempts in the final 2:16.
“We’ve been struggling lately. We needed a [win] pretty bad,” Combs said. “We’ve been struggling lately down the stretch. Some games we’ve lost we’re supposed to win. This one is a big confidence builder.”
IUPUI will need all the confidence it can get for their next game. With just one day off, they’ll travel to West Lafayette to take on undefeated #11 Purdue. The game will tip at 7:00 p.m. Monday night at Mackey Arena.